Discoveries of 2013

It’s late December, and that means two things: your sudden panicked realization that you haven’t completed your holiday shopping, and movie lists. And like every December, FSR is devoting numerous posts to the very best and worst (but mostly best) that 2013 had to offer at the movies. But as movie fans, we don’t only see movies that were released in the year we see them – we might dig into classics and curiosities via online streaming, repertory showings, or simple chance encounters.

Year-end lists may summarize the breadth of movies released in theaters throughout the calendar year, but they don’t necessarily reflect the yearly consumption of a dedicated movie fan. To many movie lovers, going to a movie theater can be surprisingly rare, and watching movies follows less of a calendar schedule and works a bit more like time travel: one day you’re in 2013, and the next you’re in 1950s Hollywood, followed by a brief stint in 1980s central Florida, and then back to 2013 again. Furthermore, several distributors (Drafthouse, Milestone, Janus) are increasingly devoting their energy not to releasing new movies, but to reviving under-seen gems.

For some of you, 2013 may have had little to do with your movie experience in 2013. So I’ve concocted an alternative year-end list: the 13 (er, 14) most memorable movies I saw in 2013 that weren’t actually released this year. Not necessarily the best, but the movies that most surprised me – the movies that reminded me that no matter how many you’ve seen, there’s still another worthwhile surprise out there.

But rather than navel-gaze at my own cinephilia, I want to hear from you: what are the most memorable non-2013 movie discoveries you made this year?

Grand Hotel

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Before Wes Anderson’s Eastern Europe-set homage dominates the cultural conversation in March, make sure to check out the film its title comes from. Based on the Broadway play by William A. Drake and the novel by Vicki Baum, Edmund Goulding’s 1932 Best Picture-winner boasts some of the biggest stars of Depression-era Hollywood (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery) as a motley crew of empty socialites and desperate thieves who endure life-changing encounters at the hotel. The film revolutionized interior shooting styles and mixed comedy and drama in ways that few films had before, making it one of early sound Hollywood’s most prescient and lasting works.

Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix by disc, and probably your local public library.

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The Bad and the Beautiful and In a Lonely Place

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If you were to judge by Singin’ in the Rain alone, you’d think that Hollywood had a pretty positive view of itself during the 1950s. Not so in Vincente Minelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, a passionate, noirish melodrama that spins the tell of a ruthless producer (Kirk Douglas, as fine as he’s ever been) who brought success to the lives of a writer, a director, and an actress by ruining them. Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place explores even darker tinseltown territory, which sees the process of writing as a descent into self-destructive obsession as Dixon Steele’s (Humphrey Bogart) lurid fantasies begin to merge with reality.

Both titles are available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, and Netflix by disc.

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Miami Connection

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Drafthouse Films, in Jacob Hall’s words, “won” 2013 in part by releasing a cavalcade of older films deserving of appreciation by a new audience. While their recent re-releases of The Visitor and Ms. 45 definitely deserve your attention, their repackaging of the little-known 1987 martial arts schlockterpiece Miami Connection should be high on your priority list if you haven’t yet seen this earnest and wonderful yarn of lost orphans, ‘80s pop rivalries, biker bar segues, and bloody ninja battles, all of which take place in…Orlando.

Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, and Netflix Instant.

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People Will Talk

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Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1951 film People Will Talk is easily one of the strangest A-list productions to have ever come out of the studio era. While advertised as another Cary Grant screwball comedy, People Will Talk is instead a dialogue-heavy drama (based on a play by Curt Goetz) that tackles head-on an array of heavy subjects including unwanted pregnancy, abortion, doctors’ codes of ethics, and manslaughter. At one point cutting to an orchestra full of medical students as if such a thing didn’t require any explanation, People Will Talk demonstrates with its every twist and turn that it is a very rare type of classical Hollywood film: one that is strange, surprising, difficult to categorize, and utterly unpredictable.

Available via Amazon Instant, iTunes, and Netflix by disc.

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Los Angeles Plays Itself

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Are there any clear distinctions between Los Angeles the city and the Los Angeles that’s been used for narrative settings and location shoots throughout the history of the American film industry? Thom Anderson’s 2003 encyclopedic video essay explores this gap with incredible insight and bone-dry wit, as only a true Angeleno could, and along the way makes a compelling case that Los Angeles might be the richest, most fascinating city in the United States. Just don’t tell Hollywood.

Available via YouTube.

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The Boys in the Band

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William Friedkin’s 1970 adaptation of Matt Crowley’s 1970 off-Broadway play was the first major movie in the US to depict an ensemble of gay characters. A time capsule of pre-Stonewall affluent gay life in NYC, The Boys in the Band uses an incredibly long and eventful birthday party as a stage for de-homogenizing queer identity and exploring an array of serious topics ranging from self-loathing to alcoholism. Maintaining the same cast of the original stage version and realized through Friedkin’s expert framing, The Boys in the Band is not only a historically significant gem but an all-too-rare type of stage-to-screen adaptation: both purely cinematic and thoroughly theatrical at the same time.

Available via Amazon Instant and Netflix by disc.

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